"I'm going to try to capture this moment with as little use of expletives as possible.
Its 3:15. The sun is high and there isn't a whisper of wind. I sit in a small bus designed for 15 people, although there are currently 22 of us. These buses are called 'mutatus' in most of Africa, but here in Rwanda we call them 'twagerenes.' Twagarene in Kinyarwanda means 'we squeeze tightly together.' Its true.
After a 2 hour previous bus ride, I found this bus which goes into my village. At 1pm. Yes, I have been waiting on this bus for over two hours. The driver, who disappeared the moment I sat down, promised we would leave by 2pm. We obviously did not.
This all wouldn't be so bad. After 17 months in Rwanda, I'm used to waiting for buses in the hot sun. But here is what's making this bus bad.
Of the 22 of us, 5 of them are children. 4 of them are screaming and crying their heads of, the fifth is too malnourished to make much noise. Their parents do nothing; their just as tired as I am. The others on the bus keep talking about me in Kinyarwanda. I haven't told them I can understand them yet because at first I thought it would be cool to see what they had to say about me. But now I'm just upset about what they're saying. They've been discussing why the 'muzungu' is sitting on a bus with them and why I don't just drive my own car that I must have. Another laughs aloud and says that he thinks I'm an American. I'm relieved slightly because I'd rather be classified by my country of origin over the color of my skin any day. But then he finishes his thought, saying that I wouldn't have a car, but rather a... what's the word? Ahh, yes. Airplane. I'm an American so I must have my own airplane.
They begin to use 'akazungu' instead of 'umuzungu.' Akazungu is a VERY derogitive word for a foreigner. While it literally translates into 'little white person,' most of its negativitey is in the connotation.
I ask the man next to me where the driver is and when he thinks we will leave. I speak in Kinyarwanda. He responds that we will leave 'soon.' He continues to discuss with the other about me. He still doesn't realize I speak Kinyarwanda.
They are laughing again. This time because the driver returned, saw the car could hold one more person before the doors fall off, and retreated to a nearby awning to sit in the shade and drink a beer. They think this is funny. The people I have been waiting with for 3 hours now in the hot sun next to an open garbage pit with all the screaming kids and flies and smells think its funny that the driver refuses to leave until no one can feel their legs and is now DRINKING before driving for 90 minutes down a treacherous road.
The people have gotten tired of laughing at things and the kids have toned-down their wailing. The woman in front of me decides that silence is evil and pulls out her cell phone. I cross my fingers. I hope that she's just going to make a call. Then the music starts. She is blasting Ugandan music. My toes have gone numb and my ass hurts. The music gets louder as the woman's husband shows her how to boost the volume on her phone.
I cave and put my headphones in, knowing exactly how this will play out. It takes about 15 minutes for the man next to me to realize what I've got and what I've done with it. He promptly reaches over and plucks the earbud from my ear and sticks it in his. He mimes rock music and laughs. I ask, as politely as is possible in Kinyarwanda, for it back. He passes it to his friend, who listens for 30 seconds before also passing it on.
Finally the man next to me has the earbud again. I hold out my hand, the international gesture for 'give me the damn earpeice.' He reaches over and jams it back into my ear. That hurt, you douche. At least now I cannot hear them.
My legs are numb up to the top of my calves now. I do my best to flex my ankles, slowly rolling my heels as far as I can. Once we DO leave, I still have another 90 minutes in this position.
But all the hotels in Butare are full tonight and there are no motorcycle taxis because this week is commemoration for the 1994 genocide. This bus is my one shot to get back into my village.
A herd of goats run by, followed shortly by the patter-patter sound of a barefoot 5 year old as he guides them down the road with a stick taller than he is. He notices me, sitting trapped in this bus and momentarily forgets his chore. He stares and begins to mouth my favorite world before his older sister runs passed. Without stopping, she chastises him and he breaks his stare, running after his sister and their family's livelihood.
At 5pm, the driver finally returns and gets in. It takes him 5 minutes to start the bus. It appears we are leaving. I'll tell you up front it was a trick. We pull into the gas station and fill up. We start to head out of town, but the driver missed the proper turn for the main road and we head towards the Hospital. My entire lower body is know numb.
At the hospital, it appears we are waiting for someone. After 20 minutes, two officials wander up and have a conversation with the driver. He seems upset. Our last passenger is not here. We turn around and head the 10 minutes back to the gas station where we find our missing doctor-passenger. Everybody cheers. The doctor doesn't when the driver tells him they upped the rate today by 200 FRW (about 30 cents). He decides not to go, so we turn around once more and finally, after 4 hours and 35 minutes of incompetence, we are cruising towards my village on the main road.
5 minutes south of town, we pick up a random, who finally caps the passenger list at 23. Still, we stop 5 minutes after that when a family of 5 flags us down. This cannot be. There is no way the driver wants to... Yep. He tells those in the aisle jump seats to get up and crams the 5 new passengers in. Even though everyone is in pain and we'll probably all die a fiery death, every laughs and says its hilarious. They tell me to move closer to the door. I tell the driver I already have an imprint of the handle in my stomach and my hips don't get any smaller. He laughs.
Now they know I speak Kinyarwanda. It's going to be a quiet ride."
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